Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pumpkin-Carrot Soup

I began chopping an onion this afternoon with the intention of making a completely different dish, but then I started musing on my daughter's recent, ahem, tummy troubles. Not to put too fine a point on it, she's in need of more fiber in her diet. It's hard to get her to eat fruits and vegetables lately because her palate is so temperamental, and all she really wants is cheese and crackers. The blueberries she gobbled down yesterday are spurned today. But I know she likes carrots, and I know she likes pumpkin pie (for now). Also, these two items contain loads of fiber, so instead of trying to force kale down her throat (haha!), I decided to create a soup just for her. I tend to think of onion as merely a flavor component, but maybe it's got some fiber too. But the nice thing about this soup is it's so easy to make, you can even do laundry and walk the dogs while it's cooking.

vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 cups baby carrots, chopped
1/2 cup applesauce
1 quart veggie or chicken stock (low-sodium)
1 large can (29 oz) pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp yellow curry powder
1/3 cup sherry or dry white wine
salt and black pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 c pepitas, toasted

In a large stockpot, saute the onion and garlic in oil until soft and translucent. Salt a bit to sweat the onion. Add the carrots and applesauce; saute another 5 minutes. I had half an apple that wasn't going to be eaten, so I chopped it up and threw that in as well (you can see the red peel in the photo below). Add stock, pumpkin, and spices.

Stir well, and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat immediately and add bay leaf and cream. Simmer uncovered for about 25 minutes, until carrots are quite soft. While this simmers, toast pepitas lightly, stirring to turn. Salt them lightly when still hot.

Remove bay leaf from stockpot. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Taste, and adjust salt and pepper. Add some water if you want a thinner soup.

Serve sprinkled with toasted pepitas and a dollop of sour cream.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Today's Gripe: Not-So Miraculous Gadgets

Ok, I'm sure you're already nodding your head and have your own tales of appliance-related woe, but I'm in the dumps. I tried to chop an onion with my beloved immersion blender, using the miniature food processing attachment. It looks just like a mini food processor. It should work just like a mini food processor.

It does not.

I ended up with some slushy onion mush and several slices of unchopped onion that were the same size as when I put them into the machine.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Artichoke-Spinach Dip

This is a very slightly healthier take on the cheesy classic.

1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 pkg frozen spinach, thawed
1/4 block silken tofu
3 large cloves garlic, minced
3 jars marinated artichokes, drained (6 oz each)
black pepper to taste (about 1/4 tsp)
1/3 c. grated parmesan
2/3 c. thick Greek yogurt
1/2 c. mayonnaise

In a food processor, puree spinach, tofu, garlic, pepper, and artichokes. Separately, whisk together the yogurt and parmesan. Then combine spinach mixture with yogurt mixture, and stir in the pine nuts.

Using a spatula, transfer mixture to a casserole dish. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. Let cool. When cool, stir in the mayonnaise. Serve with plenty of crusty bread.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Dark, hearty portobello mushrooms enrich this soup and give it a slightly mysterious, smoky flavor. It's perfect on a cold day like today (only 14 degrees!), especially with some toasted baguette and a glass of cider.

1 small onion
3 whole cloves
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
2 large portobello mushroom caps, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup sherry
2 cups vegetable stock
4 strands thyme
1/2 tsp celery seed

First make a bechamel: melt the butter in an oven-safe saucepan. Sprinkle in the flour, whisking until incorporated and golden brown (this is a basic roux). Add the milk. Insert the cloves into the whole onion, and place into the milk mixture. Place saucepan into a 350 oven for 20 minutes to thicken.

Meanwhile, chop the mushroom and saute in a little olive oil. Add the thyme leaves, the celery seed and cook down until mushrooms are quite soft and have reduced in size. Add the sherry to deglaze the pan, and then add veggie stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook about 10 minutes.

Using a stick blender, puree the mushrooms into the stock until smooth. Retrieve the bechamel from the oven, discard the onion, and fold the sauce into your soup. Whisk to incorporate. Serve hot with several pieces of crusty bread.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bone Marrow on Toast

I must admit, I was averse to this dish from the beginning, as the idea of bone marrow is slightly horrifying to me, but my husband swears that when done correctly, it can be delicious. As I am used to indulging him, I bought a few pieces and let him do the prep.

4 pieces beef marrow bones
slices of baguette
1/4 cup capers
juice of 2 lemons
1 cup chopped parsley

Place bones in a roasting pan lined with tin foil. Roast uncovered at 400 for about 20 - 25 minutes. While marrow is cooking, mix in a bowl the dressing. Combine capers, lemon juice, parsley, and a bit of water to taste. Dressing will be quite strong and pungent but very pleasing.

Toast the baguette slices, scrape out the marrow and spread it on the bread. Top with a small spoonful of the dressing and voila! Meaty appetizers.

To be honest, I thought the marrow was mostly flavorless with a soft, slightly oily texture, and I am not inclined to eat this again. But my husband swears that if you get the shank bone it tastes better. I think we bought the thigh bone... So if you like marrow, this is one way to make it. The dressing does kick ass, however, and I liked it with a bit of goat cheese instead!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Roast Veggie Napoleon

This hearty dish is very satisfying despite containing almost no fat (except for the cheese, which you can adjust by using less), no starch, and no meat. You could serve it with a side of chicken cutlet or perhaps some mild polenta, but I think anything else would seem like an afterthought, a needless addition. Perhaps, for a meal, you could start with an aromatic chicken and rice soup because it's light, and won't fill you up before this course.

3 medium zucchini
1 eggplant, peeled
tomato sauce (jarred pasta sauce is fine)
Manchego, grated finely
olive oil
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

I think it's not necessary to peel the zucchini because the skin gets so soft, but the eggplant skin can be a bit tough, so I get rid of it. Thinly slice the eggplant and zucchini into long strips. To make the napoleon look fancier, you can get a super-thin slice by using a mandoline. I don't have a mandoline (yet), so my napoleon looks pretty rustic:

Brush a bit of olive oil on each side of the strips, arrange on a roasting pan so that nothing overlaps, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast on the top rack about 20 minutes or until eggplant is tender, turning once to cook evenly.

When veggies have cooled enough to handle, you can start the napoleon. You can do these individually, or as one casserole; it's up to you. I recommend another roasting pan with sides, so no juices drip. Begin with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Sprinkle a bit of Manchego. Lay down eggplant and zucchini strips. Cover with a thin layer of sauce. Repeat until you have no more left, and finish with a generous sprinkling of Manchego. To make this lower-fat, just alternate layers of sauce with layes of the roasted veggie strips, and put the cheese on only at the end.

Bake at 350 about 20 minutes, until cheese has melted throughout and is browned and bubbly on top.

Monday, January 5, 2009


I wanted to make a potato soup that would not be heavy or overwhelming, and I had a couple of leeks calling to me from the crisper, so I decided that a cold-weather version of vichyssoise would be yummy. And what better way to achieve the darker, more robust version than to add some bacon?! And of course, serve it hot.

5 strips unsmoked bacon
2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1/2 cup fino sherry
4 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 quart chicken or veggie stock
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp thyme
splash heavy cream (about 1/4 cup)

First, render the bacon in a large saute pan. When it is very crispy, remove from pan with tongs and drain on paper towels. Set aside. In same pan, saute the shallots and leeks until very soft, about 7 minutes. Add sherry to deglaze the pan, and saute another 2 minutes.

Move leek mixture to a large soup pot. Add potatoes, stock, water, salt, pepper, thyme and celery seed. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cover and cook about 40 minutes, or until potatoes are quite soft. While it's cooking, break up the crispy bacon into small crumbles, called lardons.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is very smooth. Add the cream and whisk in. Taste, and adjust seasonings (typically plenty of salt).

To plate, ladle hot soup into a bowl and garnish with lardons. You can also add snipped chive, but it's not really necessary.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Obsession: Immersion Blender

I just got this nifty little tool and am enraptured. I wanted one so that I could puree soups right in the pot because I think it's a pain in the ass to have to transfer everything into the food processor in batches. But when I was in the store, I saw that this one has a couple of other attachments that renders it my new favorite gadget. There is a whisk, which when attached to the motor can whip heavy cream into a thick dessert topping in about a minute. And there is a little chopping attachment that is like a mini food processor in which I can dice an onion or similar sized item quickly. The best part is that most of it can go in the dishwasher, so clean up is a piece of cake. Beats the big, heavy food processor any day!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Pesto and Mozzarella Appetizer

This recipe is an original from my friend Mike. He's an expert in the recording studio and with a pen, but he is also a whiz in the kitchen. He is someone who regularly goes to the various food shows, he routinely cooks intricate dinners (although I haven't had one in a while; hint, hint), and he is an avid restaurant-goer and new flavor seeker. He is someone whose palate I trust. When he presented this pesto to me as a housewarming gift, along with a container of fresh mozzarella balls, I was delighted. When I opened the pesto after the party, I was deeply glad that I hadn't shared it with my guests. It was so good I wanted it all to myself!

3 cups fresh basil (basically everything from a 1.5 foot plant)
3/4 cup pine nuts
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
2/3 cup olive oil
3 large cloves garlic (large being the width of 2 fingers; try elephant garlic)
1 cup fresh spinach
2/3 grated parmesan

Put garlic into processor. Let fly. Stop. Add basil, nuts, oil, salt and pepper, cheese.
Blend. Stop. Mix. Blend again. Taste.

Needs more green but you're out of basil? Add 1 cup spinach leaves.
Too chunky? Add oil.
Too bitter? Too much basil? Not green enough? Add spinach.
Too much garlic? Add everything else.

Blend again, mix and repeat if needed. This was also made to go with baguette slices and cherry tomatoes for a variation on bruchetta. Skewer a tomato and mozz ball, and dip or drizzle pesto over that. Place the coated cheese/tomato on a bread slice and place in mouth, removing the skewer. Chew and enjoy. Serving and presenting is easy, and anyone with allergies or issues can avoid their contaigen/peeve. Doesn't work with vegans.

Today's Gripe: New Year's Resolution

After two weeks of indulging in lots of creamy, cheesy, heavy, rich foods, I'm feeling logy. I'm not getting on the scale because I'm sure I won't like the result. My resolution for 2009 is to eat less cheese -- in fact, to eat less dairy altogether, and to eat more vegetables. So in the coming posts, you'll be seeing more vegetable dishes and far fewer recipes calling for cream, parmesan, or other cheese. Boo hoo.